A second round pick of the Nationals in 2009, Jeff Kobernus had done just about everything he could to earn a call-up to the major leagues.
At 24 he had held a .288 average through four minor league seasons, stolen over 40 bases in consecutive years, and been a standout on defense. This season he’s held a .333 clip at Triple-A Syracuse, posted 21 steals through 43 games, and scored a team-high 33 runs: all top-five marks in the International League.
This spring he perhaps got closest as part of the Detroit Tigers, but was sent back to Washington as part of the Rule 5 Draft late in camp. Close, but again no call-up.
But on Friday night that dream finally came true for the young second baseman as before the Chiefs were set to take batting practice in Columbus, Kobernus was notified by coach Tony Beasley he would be headed to the majors. He said he called his father Jeff, a former minor league pitcher who topped out at the Double-A level, to tell him the news. His dad started crying, a dream the two had worked towards across two generations was about to come true.
“I called my dad first and then my mom,” Kobernus said. “My dad, he was crying, which was kind of one of those things where he’s helped me a lot through my career and it was a dream come true to be able to call him and tell him to come out.”
Kobernus’ dad and mom, Margie, were in the air flying to D.C. to attend the team’s homestand as their son spoke to reporters in the Nats’ clubhouse for the first time. He was standing at his locker, in a major league clubhouse, for the first time as a big leaguer.
“It didn’t really seem true until I walked in the clubhouse today,” Kobernus said. “It was really exciting. I mean, it’s like a dream come true.”
Kobernus knows several of the younger Nats players including Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, as the latter two were also in the team’s farm system as recently as last season. He also knows Drew Storen dating back to their college years. Storen played at rival Stanford while Kobernus was at California-Berkeley.
“We saw a lot of each other for two years there,” Storen said. “And freshman and sophomore year we played together in Cape Cod. I’ve been around him a lot, I’ve always been a huge fan of the way he plays. He’s got a ton of talent, but he’s a gamer. That’s the kind of thing that I’ve always remembered about him.”
“I think that’s the exciting thing about him. He’s a gamer-type guy who plays hard. He’s got talent. He’s having a great year and he’ll add a little electricity to the lineup.”
Storen noted Kobernus’ ability on the base paths as the young infielder posted a total of 95 steals between 2011 with Potomac and 2012 with Harrisburg.
“He got on base a lot against me,” Storen said. “I’m glad he’s on my team. I don’t think he ran too much on me, he was already far enough.”
Kobernus says his baserunning prowess is something he hopes to showcase while up in Washington.
“It’s been a big part of my game and it’s really helped me move up through the system,” he said.
Kobernus has increased his value this season by playing 28 of his 43 games at Syracuse in the outfield. He has lost as much as ten pounds since last season and worked extensively on his range. His ability to play both infield and outfield played a major role in his call-up, according to Davey Johnson.
“All the reports on him as an outfielder are very good,” Johnson said. ”He’s much needed right now with [Danny] Espinosa out because he can play second base and he can also play the outfield.”
“There are two areas of the lineup where we’ve really been struggling and those are second base and left field.”
Kobernus is not in the starting lineup for Saturday night’s game, but could get the call on Sunday against Cole Hamels and the Phillies. Johnson said he is thinking about it, “but we’ll see.”